The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter
An electronic publication of
The Law, Health Policy & Disability Center at the University of Iowa College of Law
The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University
May 26, 2015
Volume 12, Issue 5
The Disability Law & Policy Newsletter is a monthly publication that aims to inform disability advocates, scholars, and service providers of the most current issues in disability law, policy, research, best practices, and breaking news.
Below is a topical overview of the items presented in this issue.
A. CIVIL RIGHTS: ADA, Section 504, CRPD Ratification
B. WORKFORCE: Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, Vocational Rehabilitation
C. EDUCATION: Special Education, Youth Transition, Postsecondary Education, & Outcomes
D. HEALTHCARE: Access, Services, Benefits, and the Affordable Care Act
E. TECHNOLOGY: Assistive, Information, and Communication Technologies
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Disaster Preparation, Mitigation, and Response
G. INDEPENDENCE: Community Integration
H. INTERNATIONAL: Topics Outside the United States
I. POP CULTURE: News and Topics Vary
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING: Conferences, Calls for Proposals, Papers, and Presentations
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A. CIVIL RIGHTS
1. Federal Judge Rejects Minnesota's "Olmstead Plan"
In the Supreme Court case Olmstead v. L.C., the Court ruled that states are to ensure that individuals with disabilities receive services in the most integrated settings appropriate for their needs to eliminate unnecessary segregation. Under the ruling in this case, states must submit an "Olmstead Plan," which details how this is to be accomplished.
The administration of Governor Mark Dayton (Minnesota) believed their Olmstead plan was an example of the state's commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities. However, on May 6th the plan was rejected by a federal District Court judge, who ruled that the plan had too many shortfalls including its vagueness and inability to demonstrate success moving forward. He cited to a number of vague goals that did not provide any means to measure if the goals were being achieved. The court has instructed the administration to revise the plan, which had taken two years to create, to account for these deficiencies.
Full Story: Chris Serres, Federal Judge Rejects State's Disability Reform Plan, The Star Tribune, May 6, 2015, available at
2. DOJ Sues Fort Worth for Failure to Accommodate those Recovering from Addiction
The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a discrimination suit on April 22, against the city of Fort Worth, Texas, claiming the city violated the ADA and Fair Housing Act. Specifically the claim alleges discrimination against individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The city fails to recognize that individuals recovering from drug and alcohol addiction commonly are considered individuals with a disability entitled to protection under the law.
Ben Patterson, who owns and operates the facility at issue, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development when his request for a permit to continue operating the facility was denied. The suit was brought to obtain a court order prohibiting discrimination by the city and requiring them to make a reasonable accommodation to permit the operation of Patterson's facility. While it is still in the early stages of litigation, the Justice Department says that Fort Worth must comply with federal law and consider individuals with drug and alcohol addiction individuals with disabilities under the law.
Press Release: Justice Department Sues Forth Worth, Texas, for Disability Discrimination, United States Department of Justice, Apr. 22, 2015, available at
3. Lawsuit Claims Home Depot Denied Reasonable Accommodation for Disability
Kerry Thomas, a former department manager at Home Depot, brought a suit against the company on April 21, claiming he was discriminated against based on disability and based on retaliation for submitting a harassment report brought to him by a subordinate. Thomas injured his wrist and was placed on light duty for a period of four weeks as an effort to avoid surgery. Thomas requested an accommodation for this light duty restriction from his employer. It was ultimately denied, and he was placed on a performance improvement plan at the end of the year. Surgery became necessary and Thomas missed work from June to August of the year. Shortly after returning, Thomas was written up and terminated. He claims his termination violates Title I of the ADA as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case is being heard in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Full Story: Home Depot Sued over Alleged Disability and Civil Rights Infringements, The Louisiana Record, Apr. 28, 2015, available at
1. Public Comment Period Open for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act
The U.S. Departments of Education and Labor announced that they are seeking comments for five Notices of Proposed Rulemaking to implement the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). The act, signed by President Obama on July 22, 2014, is the first major reform to federal job training programs in more than 15 years. The act is designed to streamline and improve the coordination of employment and training services across federal agencies. It also aims to strengthen collaboration with state and local partners to increase access to and opportunities for the employment, education, training, and support services for individuals to succeed in the labor market.
The departments are particularly interested in 5 different areas of WIOA. The state VR Services program, State Supported Employment Services program, and provisions contained in new section 511 (Limitations on the Use of Subminimum Wages) that fall under the purview of the Department of Education. All comments must conform to the department's detailed submission provisions or they will not be considered.
Full Story: U.S. Department of Education, OSERS Seeks Public Comment on Proposed Rules to Implement Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Blog, Apr. 24, 2015, available at
2. Employment April 2014 to 2015 Increased for People with Disabilities
In the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Jobs Report released Friday, May 8, the employment-to-population ratio for working-age people with disabilities increased from 25.3 percent in April 2014 to 27.0 percent in April 2015 (1.7 percentage points since April 2014). The employment-to-population ratio, a key indicator, reflects the percentage of people who are working relative to the total population (the number of people working divided by the number of people in the total population multiplied by 100). In comparison to April 2014, 337,000 more Americans with disabilities are in the workforce.
The Kessler Foundation develops strategies to create and expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities through its national Signature Grants programs. On April 28, the Foundation hosted "Social Innovation Boot Camp: Building Entrepreneurship and Innovation Capacity to Help Sustain Services in Today's Human Service Sector" for grantees and other disability-focused nonprofit agencies.
Full Story: Penny Gould, nTIDE Jobs Report: Employment Continues to Grow for People with Disabilities, Kessler Foundation, May 8, 2015, available at
See Also: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table A-6. Employment Status of the Civilian Population by Sex, Age, and Disability Status, Not Seasonally Adjusted, May 8 2015, U.S. Department of Labor, available at
3. Microsoft Recruits New Workforce Including People with Autism
Microsoft is starting a new pilot program to hire employees with autism for full-time positions in Redmond Washington. Microsoft will be working with Specialisterne, a nonprofit organization, to facilitate the hiring process. Specialisterne specializes in helping people with developmental disorders apply their talents in technological fields. The program is expected to include 10 more fulltime employees with autism.
"Microsoft is stronger when we expand opportunity and we have a diverse workforce that represents our customers," wrote Mary Ellen Smith, Microsoft's Corporate Vice President of Worldwide Operations, in a blog post announcing the pilot program. "People with autism bring strengths that we need at Microsoft, each individual is different, some have amazing ability to retain information, think at a level of detail and depth or excel in math or code."
Full Story: Shaun Heasley, Microsoft Recruiting Employees with Autism, DisablityScoop.com, Apr. 7, 2015, available at
1. Officials Say IDEA Applies to Students with Disabilities Even If "Cognitively Gifted"
In a memo issued by the U.S. Department of Education on April 17, state directors of special education are reminded not to leave out students who are considered "twice exceptional," meaning those with disabilities who also are intellectually gifted. Many children with emotional disturbances and mental illness are in need of special education services. However, school districts are often hesitant to conduct evaluations of these students if they feel the students have high cognition. Federal officials want school districts to remember that IDEA requires them to evaluate all children who may be in need of special education services, regardless of cognitive skills.
According to Melody Musgrove, director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the Education Department, IDEA requires a number of assessment tools be used to gather functional, developmental, and academic information about a child. No single measure is to be the sole criterion for determining if a child has a disability or for determining an appropriate program for the child.
Full Story: Michelle Diament, IDEA Applies to "Twice Exceptional" Students Too, Disability Scoop, May 1, 2015, available at
2. Common Core Is a Struggle for Students with Disabilities, According to Teachers
The Common Core is a relatively new set of standards adopted in 45 states that was created by education professionals with the goal of greater success for all students. Some opponents of the Common Core argue it represents a restrictive one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum. For example, many special education teachers believe that restricting students to a specific curriculum that is beyond their cognitive capabilities lowers their overall achievement.
Criticism against the Common Core is not unique to individuals receiving special education services. Thousands of students have joined the "opt out" movement and refused to take the Common Core standardized tests. If fewer than 95% of students in a district do not participate in tests that meet common core standards, federal funds could be withheld. Opposition to the tests runs across party lines and is high in certain states including New York, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.
Full Story: Christina Cassidy, Thousands of Students Opt Out of Common Core Tests in Protest, PBS, Apr. 18, 2015, available at
See Also: Katharine Beals, The Common Core Is Tough on Kids with Special Needs, The Atlantic, Feb. 21, 2014, available at
1. May Is American Stroke Month
May is American Stroke Month. One in six people will suffer from a stroke in his or her lifetime and it is estimated that every 40 seconds someone has a stroke. Up to two thirds of people experience a change in vision after having a stroke. Vision loss due to strokes is typically in the form of blind spots and tunnel or visual perception problems.
Accommodations using technology is possible. One example of technology in action is for a customer service representative in a financial institution. He had long-term blurry vision from a stroke and could no longer read from his computer. The employer provided software for screen reading and information he input into the computer was read back to him.
Another example is of an assistance manager for a nonprofit who had complete loss of vision in one eye and low-level vision in the other eye. He was unable to read printed paper copies and was provided with a portable magnifier, stand magnifier, and closed circuit television to magnify materials.
Full Story: JAN, In the Spotlight: Stroke, JAN, May 10, 2015, available at
2. Medicaid Turns 50
On May 6 the Kaiser Family Foundation held a forum in Washington, DC to reflect on the lessons of the first 50 years of Medicaid, created in1965 by the title XIX amendment to the Social Security Act. The Foundation released a report on the future of Medicaid including a comprehensive analysis of its past. Key speakers included Thomas Betlach, president of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, and Fred Cerise, CEO of Parkland Health and Hospital System.
The report focuses on the history of the act and its effect on different social groups. The report explains how important a program Medicaid is for people with disabilities because poverty and disability are correlated. Additionally, people with disabilities have more limited access to commercial insurance, which typically does not cover the full scope of Medicaid services.
Full Story: Chris Lee, Medicaid at 50: A Look Back--And Ahead, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, May 6 2015, available at
See Also, Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid at 50 Transcript, available at
See Also: Julia Paradise et al., Medicaid at 50, available at
1. University of Wisconsin-Stout Hosted App Developing Workshop
On May 16, the University of Wisconsin-Stout (UW-Stout) hosted a workshop for future competitors in AT&T and New York University's Connect Ability Challenge to have an opportunity to talk with people with disabilities, find out what challenges they face, and test preliminary ideas.
AT&T and New York University started the Connect Ability Challenge in April. Its aim is to develop new software for mobile devices to help people with disabilities in five categories: solutions for people with sensory disabilities, mobility solutions, social / emotional solutions, solutions for people with communication and cognitive disabilities, and solutions impacting policy and society. The competition is opened to individuals, teams and companies worldwide and offers $100,000. The deadline to submit proposals is June 24.
Full Story: Tom Still, UW-Stout Hosting "Developer Day" for Disability Apps, The Chippewa Herald, May 12, 2015, available at
2. Mechanical Horse Enhances Hippotherapy
Through massive fundraising, the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) purchased a mechanical horse intended to aid in their therapeutic riding program. Hippotherapy is physical, occupational, or speech therapy that incorporates the movement of horses. Clients are led through therapeutic exercises and must respond to the horse's three-dimensional movements, movements that couldn't be reproduced in a clinical setting. This makes the exercise more challenging.
RDA's mechanical horse has sensors in its saddle to measure balance, posture, and weight distribution. Sensors in its head and neck control reining the horse, and sensors on its sides let riders control the horse with their legs. Equestrian Clare Balding says the mechanical horse's movements feel real and was impressed with its responsiveness.
Having the mechanical horse allows therapists to work with many people with disabilities who might not otherwise be able to benefit from hippotherapy. For example, people with extreme balance problems who might not be safe on a real horse could work on their balance on the more controlled mechanical one. Likewise, people with autism could benefit from the steady gait without worrying about the horse making sudden moves.
Full Story: BT, The Unique Technology Bringing Horse Riding Therapy to the Disabled, The Guardian, May 8, 2015, available at
See Also: Joann Benjamin, Introduction to Hippotherapy, American Hippotherapy Association, May, 23, 2010, available at
F. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS
1. Emergency Preparedness Highlighted in May
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) highlighted emergency preparedness for people with disabilities in May, which is National Mobility Awareness Month. While power outages and loss of heat or water caused by weather conditions can be hard on most people, they can be even more dangerous for people with disabilities. That's why IEMA has created the Ready Illinois website.
Ready Illinois lists information to help people with multiple disabilities prepare for disasters. The site includes many videos in American Sign Language, and they discuss topics such as how to make an emergency supply kit and how to prepare for severe weather conditions.
Throughout May, IEMA posted emergency preparedness tips on their Facebook and Twitter sites.
Full Story: IEMA, IEMA Website Helps Families Prepare for Emergencies, The Times, May 5, 2015, available at
See Also: Ready Illinois
1. The Future of Housing for Aging Americans with and without Disabilities
Older Americans, many of whom have or are aging into disability, will account for 20% (88 million) of the U.S. population in 2050, and we don't where they are going to live. Many of these Americans will not have the financial resources for long-term assisted living or nursing facilities. States budgets and Medicaid, which support many older Americans with and without disabilities, are not expected to keep up with the demands for housing. This population may desire to live at home with dignity and a measure of independence far longer than is common today; and supporting people to live at home may be more affordable to society than institutionalization.
Semuels' article, "Living, and Dying, at Home," highlights models of community-based supports for older persons to remain in their homes. The village model, for instance, is a network of aging neighbors who check in on each other, plan social events together, recommend services to one another, and organize volunteers to provide transportation and other assistance. Over 150 variations on the village model operate around the world.
See: Alana Semuels, Living, and Dying, at Home, Atlantic, May 1, 2015, available at
1. Growing Number of Ukrainian Children with Disabilities Experience Abuse
Disability Rights International issued a report in April of 2015 saying that a growing number of children with disabilities in Ukraine are being condemned to lives of neglect and abuse in orphanages and institutions. Children with disabilities are among the worst abused and are in danger of physical and sexual violence. Dangers include being trafficked for sex, labor, or pornography. One key factor is that is it less expensive to institutionalize children with disabilities than to create programs to provide them with proper care. There are an estimated 82,000 to 200,000 children in the care of the state in Ukraine.
Full Story: Peter Leonard & Efrem Lukatsky, Rights Group: Ukraine's Disabled Children Condemned to Life in Grim Institutions, Apr. 16 2015, available at
2. Chinese Student with a Disability Attends School Because of Friend's Kindness
In China an estimated 243,000 school-aged children with disabilities were not able to attend school according to the most recent human rights report published in 2013 by the U.S State Department. Zhang Chi, age 19, has muscular dystrophy that affects his ability to walk to school. In spite of his disability he is able to attend class every day with the support of his friend Xie Xu, age 18. For the past three years Xie has been giving his friend piggyback rides to school.
Full Story: The Student Who Has Carried His Disabled Best Friend to School Every Day for 3 Years, News Asia-Pacific, Apr. 27, 2015, available at
I. POP CULTURE
1. Rock Bands Join Forces to Create Foundation for Musicians with Disabilities
Josh Homme of the band Queens of the Stone Age, has gotten together with members of Jimmy Eat World and Paramore to form The Sweet Stuff Foundation. The Mission of the foundation is to help members of the musical community and their families during times of illness and disability with costs associated with transportation, childcare, income assistance, and other services not typically covered by insurance. Believing in the healing power of music, they also will provide music lessons to children. To raise money, the charity will auction off items from the artists' personal collections, including a signed guitar from the 2014 Grammys.
Full Story: Ezra Marcus, Josh Homme Starts Foundation for Disabled Musicians, Radio.com, Apr. 24, 2015, available at
See Also: The Sweet Stuff Foundation, available at
2. Dyslexia's Impact on Art, Science, Business, and the Media
Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Richard Branson, and Walt Disney all are/were famous and impactful in their respective fields. They also were dyslexic. David Rosen, a dyslexia specialist says that because people with dyslexia think mainly in pictures, they are highly imaginative, inventive, and show signs of genius in their chosen fields. He sees dyslexia not so much as a disability for these individuals, but a product of a different way of thinking and reacting created by an inability to decipher through more traditional means such as words and numbers.
Richard Branson dropped out of High School at the age of 15, partially because of his learning disability. He recognizes that he would not be where he is today without his disability. The billionaire founder of Virgin Group reflected the same ideas as Rosen saying that dyslexia can be an opportunity if you turn it into one. His dyslexia has led him to a business philosophy of clear communication and advertising, and his inability to easily decipher numbers has led him to be an efficient and effective delegator of the things he knows he cannot do well.
Full Story: Meg McDonnell, Dyslexia - Disability or Gift? Sonoma County Gazette, May 6, 2015, available at
See Also: Matt Egan, Richard Branson: Dyslexia Got Me Where I Am Today, CNNMoney, May 8, 2015, available at
J. EVENTS AND FUNDING
Conferences and Events
Calls for Papers and Proposals
The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is supported by the following sources:
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The Disability Law & Policy e-Newsletter is the collaborative product of Editor-in-Chief David W. Klein, Ph.D., Executive Editor William N. Myhill, M.Ed., J.D.; and Associate Editors Philip Ross, Tesla Goodrich, and Kate Battoe.
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